Developing a Vacuum Sealed Pod for Use in a Hyperloop Transportation System

SpaceX Hyperloop Competition.

In Summer 2016, the University of Wisconsin–Madison BadgerLoop hyperloop pod team approached MDC Vacuum Products, LLC, with a sponsorship opportunity. BadgerLoop is a student organization team at the University that was established in preparation for the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition.

MDC Vacuum Products and its Insulator Seal (ISI) division were happy to sponsor the components needed by the student team. MDC’s support helped BadgerLoop to create a versatile vacuum testing environment, wherein the team could confirm the operation of its pod’s various power system components in a vacuum, and to successfully design and manufacture a competitive pod for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

This achievement also laid the foundation for what could be the next major transportation industry.

Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a lightning-fast transportation technology capable of completely transforming modern transit. This innovative idea was proposed by Elon Musk in 2013 and since then, it has developed into an important technology of our near-future.

The design comprises of a levitating pod traveling at a speed of about 760 miles per hour using an evacuated/vacuum steel tube. The low vacuum pressure minimizes drag forces, while contact-less leviation further diminishes energy loss. The combination of these features poise Hyperloop as the new world-wide standard for high-speed transportation efficiency.

Badger Loop Pod

BadgerLoop Pod

Unlike most of the other vehicles, the BadgerLoop pod is designed to travel in a low vacuum environment of approximately 1 Torr. This low pressure can be dangerous to their electrical system for several reasons, including the lack of convective cooling for hot components and the potential outgassing of wet electrolytic capacitors.

A versatile vacuum testing environment equipped with a wide range of power and signal feedthrough options was needed for the team to test its solutions. A large cylindrical chamber was donated by a local physics laboratory to BadgerLoop in June 2016. However, the chamber did not have any ports or flanges. Hence, the team approached MDC and with the generous component donation by MDC, it was able to develop a fully functional vacuum chamber consisting of the following features:

  • Operating chamber pressure of 1 Torr
  • 12” door for ease of access
  • 8 power feedthrough channels each capable of carrying 150 A
  • 2 medium sized viewing ports
  • Custom BadgerLoop “Vacdaq” with ambient pressure/temperature readings and custom DAQ configurations for different tests
  • DSUB25 flange for data signals and low voltage power

MDC supplied all the vacuum hardware and components needed for BadgerLoop to build its vacuum test system. The hardware included MDC vacuum flanges, a quick-access vacuum chamber door, gaskets, ISI electrical feedthroughs, fittings and ISI viewports.

Vacuum Chamber

After assembling the vacuum chamber, the BadgerLoop team verified a wide variety of power system components using the vacuum chamber. A coupled-motor test was initially performed, where two of the team’s brushed DC motors were connected to the shaft in a torque-speed regenerative configuration.

They used a small power supply to get the motors up to speed and measured the armature temperatures after the motors reached rated current. After this test, they moved on to discharging a lithium polymer pouch cell at 200A inside the chamber.

Vacuum Chamber

The BadgerLoop team also tested components such as fuses, diodes, contractors, relays, fans and motor controllers. The MDC chamber allowed the team to determine pressure-related problems and test its unique solutions.

Here at BadgerLoop we are very proud to represent MDC in the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition. With their continued support and generous donations, we have been able to test our Pod’s electrical system to a high degree of accuracy. We look forward to a continued partnership with MDC as the Hyperloop evolves and new challenges present themselves.

Eric Amikam, Electrical Team Lead at BadgerLoop, University of Wisconsin-Madison

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

After completing final testing and assembly of its pod, the UW–Madison BadgerLoop team participated in SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition along with 30 teams from other Universities and Colleges across the World.

The competition was conducted outside the SpaceX headquarters located in Hawthorne, California, between 27th and 29th January, 2017.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

The purpose of the competition was to help accelerate the development of functional prototypes and encourage student innovation by challenging University Students to design and build the best high-speed pod.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

This competition was the first of its kind anywhere in the world. The teams put their pods through an array of tests, which was made possible through SpaceX's Hyperloop system. SpaceX built a 1 mile long test track for the competition.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

The track is not to scale with an actual hyperloop system, like the one being constructed by Hyperloop One in North Las Vegas. However, it is still a fully functional hyperloop tube capable of creating a low vacuum from 1 Torr (0.02 psi) to 760 Torr (14.7 psi-pressure at sea level).

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

The finished BadgerLoop pod came in at 15 feet long and weighed 2,100 pounds.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

The BadgerLoop team won one of two Innovation Awards, amazed SpaceX Engineers with the maturity of its engineering capability and attracted Elon Musk to sit in its pod. The latter was indeed a proud moment for the BadgerLoop team as only its pod had the capacity to accommodate a full-sized human being.

Taking into account all these factors, the BadgerLoop team was the only team to provide anyone the chance to experience the near future.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

Hyperloop Pod Competition II

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

Based on overwhelming response surrounding the competition and high-quality submissions, SpaceX is proceeding with a second installment of the competition: Hyperloop Pod Competition II, which will conclude in a second competition in Summer 2017 at SpaceX’s Hyperloop track.

Maximum speed is the only criterion of focus for Hyperloop Competition II. Both new student teams showing interest to compete on the track and existing student teams who have already designed and tested their pods to further improve their designs can take part in the second competition.

SpaceX’s Hyperloop Pod Competition

This information has been sourced, reviewed and adapted from materials provided by MDC Vacuum Products, LLC.

For more information on this source, please visit MDC Vacuum Products, LLC.

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